The Fast Lane – The great Hamilton return of Abu Dhabi 2011

As we all sat down around the world at 1.00PM GMT yesterday to watch the Abu Dhabi GP – a track where only one man, Sebatien Vettel has ever won a Grand Prix, where the same man was currently sitting at the front of the grid in the best car of the 2011 season – there was one thing no-one was expecting to see. Vettel out at the second corner!

Now it’s mean to celebrate at others misfortune – I’ve written on this blog how much I admire Sebastien’s driving and I think we all know what amazing talent that man has – but I couldn’t help but leap for joy when I saw that second corner spin! At last, a race Vettel wasn’t going to win simply from the front.

It turned out that the German had suffered the unlucky fate of a rear puncture causing him to lose control of his Red Bull. The sad news was that this really was it for Vettel’s day – despite nursing the car back to the pit, it was too badly damaged to continue and any valiant drive through the field we may have hoped for was not to be.

It was Lewis Hamilton who took up the baton that Vettel dropped and led the field through the early laps. Just behind him was an impressive Alonso who had taken every chance at the start, driving around both Webber and Button with ease. Judging by Ferrari’s performance this season, you might have thought Alonso would soon fade away and be taken by both Button and Webber, but it wasn’t the case. The Spaniard got something special out of his car and managed to match and beat Hamilton’s lap times out front – remaining around 2 – 3 seconds behind the Brit. Maybe it was the shadow of the impressive Ferrari World spurring him on!

Behind the top two, a slightly different battle was going on between Button, Massa and Webber. Massa initially started to out pressure on Button who was suffering with a KERS issue. With the double DRS available at this track, it was looking possible for the Brazillian to sneak through. But all this focus forward had made Massa lose sight of the man behind him. It took several laps and even more DRS zones, but Mark Webber was clearly the faster car and managed to make his way past the Ferrari driver.

Webber took to chasing down Button, but as we have seen throughout the year, if there’s one thing Button can do, it’s look after his tyres. Webber couldn’t, in fact he rather destroyed his, forcing an extra pit stop and an extra set of soft tyres. This tactic moved Webber past Button into third position, but it wasn’t to last. Webber still had to pit for his harder tyres, doing so on the final lap and losing the position.

The top two had an astounding pace, both trading fastest laps throughout the race. But it was Hamilton who remained the dominant, always a few seconds down the road from Alonso and avoiding any wheel-to-wheel racing (boo!). This was a man back on form – it’s a shame we couldn’t see how close he was to Vettel on track.

The undisputed villain of the race has to be Pastor Maldonado. I’m unsure what on earth he was doing throughout the GP. He was constantly ignoring blue flags and generally getting in everyones way – nearly crashing into Felipe Massa. It’s poor form to be this bad at following the simple F1 rules and something which yesterday was rightly punished (although that just put him in even more people’s way!)

Lewis Hamilton has said of his win, that this is the start of a new beginning for the driver. Lets hope so, because I feel that the Lewis which won the championship in 2008 has been missing in action ever since. The question still remains though, how does Lewis at his peak shape up to the might of Vettel. Maybe in Brazil in two weeks, at the BBC’s last full F1 broadcast, we will find out…

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